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Tips for navigating the airports during your summer vacation

Pack your patience if you’re heading to the airport for a summer vacation.

Security lines are expected to be long, planes full of passengers and overhead bins overflowing with carry-on luggage.

“It’s going to be long lines this summer,” Farecompare.com founder Rick Seaney said. “We haven’t seen even a taste of what it’s going to be like yet.”

About 231.1 million passengers are expected to fly between June 1 and Aug. 31, a 4 percent increase over last summer, according to Airlines for America. That’s an additional 95,500 passengers per day, or 8.8 million for the summer, traveling through the nation’s airports.

“We saw airfares fall throughout 2015, and that trend continued in the first three months of 2016,” said John Heimlich, chief economist for the industry group. “As airlines compete for passengers across an increasing portfolio of markets, air travel is becoming increasingly affordable and accessible.”

Dallas/Fort Worth Airport said it expects a 2.4 percent increase in passengers for a total of 18.4 million customers this summer.

With more travelers, experts say consumers need to be prepared to take extra time to get to their destination. There have already been reports of Transportation Security Administration checkpoint lines at Chicago O’Hare and Atlanta airports with waits lasting a few hours, although DFW Airport and Dallas Love Field typically have waits that are 30 minutes or less.

Some airports are bringing in entertainment for travelers, and others are offering promotions. Officials at Love Field suggest that travelers have “large doses of good humor.”

To help get the summer off to a good start, DFW Airport gave out free terminal parking vouchers Friday to the first 1,000 vehicles that entered designated ticket-only lanes. The vouchers are valid for seven days of free parking and can be used through Sept. 10. Terminal parking costs $22 per day.

“We want to make sure customers have a smooth travel experience through DFW Airport and with our parking promotion we hope to share a little summer joy,” said Ken Buchanan, DFW executive vice president of revenue management.

Here are a few tips for your summer vacation.

Don’t travel on Mondays, Fridays or Sundays

If you haven’t bought your tickets for a late summer vacation, try to avoid traveling on peak days like Mondays, Fridays and Sundays.

Those are the busiest days and usually more expensive than if you fly in the middle of the week. Airlines typically have fewer flights in midweek since demand is lower on Tuesday and Wednesday, and sometimes have cheaper fares for those flights.

Get to the airport early

Local officials are suggesting that travelers get to DFW and Love Field at least two hours before their domestic flight to park, check in and get to the gate. For international flights, three hours is the suggested time.

Although Dallas recently added 2,000 parking spaces at Love Field, parking is still limited, and airport officials suggest using DART, taxis, ride-for-hire like Uber or Lyft, or having a friend drop you off.

DFW Airport also has multiple TSA security checkpoints, so experts suggest that if you see a long line, try another checkpoint.

“If you’re at DFW, you can get through that airport in 15 minutes on your way out of town, but don’t expect that at the airport when you return,” Seaney said, reminding North Texas travelers that security waits have been much longer in other cities.

Use TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry

As the long security lines have received more attention, airlines and the TSA have promoted enrolling in the TSA Pre-Check program.

For an $85 fee, travelers undergo a background check and an in-person appointment to become a “trusted traveler.” Pre-Check members, and those who belong to the Global Entry “trusted traveler” program, can use expedited screening lanes at airports and don’t have to take off their shoes and belts during screening.

U.S. Travel Association CEO Roger Dow said pre-screening travelers before they get to the airport means TSA screeners can focus on unknown travelers instead. The association believes that the $85 fee should be lowered to encourage more travelers to use the program.

Since the TSA Pre-Check application process includes an in-person appointment, it may be difficult for summer travelers to get enrolled in the program before their vacations.

“Unfortunately, we’re well past the point when any single measure is going to provide enough relief to completely save the summer travel season,” Dow said.

Pay for early boarding

While most travel experts don’t suggest paying fees for early boarding most of the time, it does make sense during peak travel times if your flight is leaving between 6 and 9 a.m. or 3 and 6 p.m.

For example, Southwest Airlines, which does not have reserved seats, charges $15 one-way for “early-bird check-in” to give customers a higher boarding number and better chance of getting a window or an aisle seat.

Since load factors on airplanes could approach the mid-90s this summer, Seaney said paying an early boarding fee may be the only way you will be able to keep your roller-board bag with you on the aircraft.

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk

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